Spring practice exit interviews came and went. Steven Bench didn’t get the answer he was hoping for.
As he did last April, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien sat down with players individually for some honest discussions following the Blue-White Game.
Bench left his meeting pessimistic about his chances to start at quarterback this season and has made the decision to transfer at the end of the spring semester.
Penn State confirmed the departure on Wednesday afternoon.
“After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere,” O’Brien said in a release. “We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him any way we can.”
The move leaves junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg as the top candidates to start under center when the Nittany Lions face Syracuse on Aug. 31.
Ferguson was rated by some recruiting services as the No. 2-rated JUCO quarterback to sign over the winter. Hackenberg is considered by many to be the country’s top pure drop-back passer coming out of high school in this past recruiting class.
Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook will be joined this summer by fellow walk-on Jack Seymour to round out the quarterback stable for this season.
Bench, meanwhile, will hunt around for a new school where he may be able to start immediately.
Because he is leaving before the start of preseason camp, Bench is eligible to play immediately for another FBS school in 2013. With the exception of the most recent recruiting class, all Penn State players are permitted to transfer without penalty until camp opens because of the NCAA sanctions imposed last July.
“I’ve decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential,” Bench wrote on his Twitter account.
“Thanks for the love and support. I appreciate it more than y’all know.”
The south Georgia native was one of the very first recruits brought in by O’Brien’s overhauled coaching staff. A verbal commitment to Rice, Bench jumped on a scholarship offer from Penn State in the month before national signing day.
When he arrived in the summer of 2012, Bench made a quick impression on the team in preseason camp. With Rob Bolden having transferred and Paul Jones struggling, Bench claimed the top backup spot behind Matt McGloin by the time the season started.
It was Bench who took the field in Week 2 when Matt McGloin had to briefly leave the game with an injury. His first collegiate play came on a fourth down on the road at Virginia. He finished out the half against the Cavaliers, going 2-for-7 for 12 yards while adding 18 on the ground.
The son of a high school coach, Bench picked things up quickly before hitting a wall midway through his true freshman season. He made only the briefest of cameos the rest of the campaign, going 0-for-1 against Purdue.
Though he didn’t play much last season, he had the advantage of a year learning O’Brien’s offense. And he was one of the most outgoing members of the Lions’ 2012 recruiting class, choosing to come to Penn State at its lowest point.
On Saturday at the Blue-White Game, Bench and Ferguson both went 9-of-15 passes and directed two touchdown drives.
O’Brien said afterward he wasn’t close to naming a starter, but did hint that he would likely have to keep the competition to two quarterbacks once camp opened.
“It’s very difficult to get three quarterbacks reps during training camp, so we’ll have to evaluate that over the next couple of months, how we are going to do that, if we are going to do that,” O’Brien said. “Only one quarterback can play at a time, in my opinion, so we have to do a good job of making sure we know where these two guys stand and make sure they know where they stand.
“And then when training camp starts, we have to get Christian some reps and let him get in there and compete and see how that goes. We’re a long way off from that but it is a decision that has to be made at some point in time.”
Zwinak on the shelf
Penn State also announced Wednesday that top tailback Zach Zwinak suffered a left wrist injury early in the Blue-White Game and that he will be ready to play in the season opener.